Only two people – MLAs James Aylward and Brad Trivers – have formally announced their candidacy. A third, Alan Mulholland, withdrew from the race last week.
Granted, prospective leaders have until Aug. 18 to nominate for the leadership convention to be held in October. But I’m surprised more candidates haven’t announced much earlier in order to get a jump on the barbecue circuit this summer, especially when their odds of becoming premier sooner than later seem to improve with each quarterly opinion poll.
Since last August, polls suggest support for the governing Liberals has plummeted from 64 to 38 per cent of decided voters while support for the PCs – even without a permanent leader – spiked by seven percentage points in the last quarter. That moved them into a tie with the Green Party at 26 per cent.
A lively leadership race will likely continue that upward trend, and more candidates would surely generate more interest in the campaign this summer.
The Tories are in a much better position than they were in 2015 when they chose their last leader. Premier Robert Ghiz had unexpectedly resigned just before Christmas and Wade MacLauchlan was uncontested in his bid to become the new Liberal leader. He became premier in February. With speculation rampant he’d call a snap election later that spring, the Tories had only a few months to nominate candidates and choose their leader. Soon after he won the leadership, Rob Lantz and the PCs were thrust into a spring election campaign. The Tories won eight seats, but Lantz lost in his own district and stepped down a few months later.
Barring another early election call by MacLauchlan – and given the latest polls, that seems unlikely – Islanders will vote again in the fall of 2019. Choosing a leader who already has a seat in the legislature would make sense, but by no means should it be a prerequisite for the job. Ghiz won the Liberal leadership in April of 2003 and later that year, he won a seat in the general election. His father, Joe, served as party leader outside the rail for more than a year before he gained a seat in the 1982 election.
Aylward and Trivers will be courting PC voters all summer and fall. Other serious contenders should follow suit, including at least one from each county. The party’s last permanent leader from Prince County was George Key. That was back in 1973.
When the next election rolls around, the Liberals will have been in office for 12 years. And this time around, MacLauchlan will have a record of his own to defend.
With polls suggesting Island voters are willing to shop around, the PCs have to make sure they get the right leader in place – one who can re-energize the party’s rank and file, bring some new ideas to the table and appeal to undecided voters.
But the race needs a few more candidates – the sooner, the better – to liven up three planned debates and to add a bit more sizzle to the summer barbecue circuit.
- Wayne Young is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.